Of Obergefell and Ostracism

Of Obergefell and Ostracism July 9, 2015

Just as I was learning not to hate the term “national conversation,” gay marriage supporters decided to quit speaking to us. That would, at any rate, be the earnest wish of Daily Beast columnist Sally Kohn. In last Sunday’s piece, “The New, Post-Homophobic Christianity,” she ticks off all the denominations that have changed their teachings on homosexuality and asks, “Will anti-gay Christians be politically and socially ostracized?”

Her answer: “I sure hope so.”

Regarding the social part, I’m curious to know what, exactly, Kohn is thinking. As Br. Dominick Bouck, O.P. observed in First Things, there was a time not so long ago when she was ready to credit “conservatives” with being “emotionally correct,” if nothing else. Did she read the majority decision in Obergefell and exclaim, “By the Goddess! All along those bastards were playing footsie with due process and equal protection! ‘Emotional correctness’ my eye!”? Or is she convinced that offering us the cold shoulder is the best way to make us change our minds?

Of those two motives, the second would be the more base, since it speaks to a deeply cynical view of human nature. When it comes to winning converts, arguments and emotional appeals are fine, but failing both, fear might do. And yes, for most people, social ostracism really is something to fear. When its targets are children, it can have a negative effect on cognitive ability. For adults, it can make a work environment hostile in ways much harder to detect (and, for that reason, to sue over) than open heckling.

“In the hands of a petty and malicious boss,” writes Lynn Stuart Parramore in Alternet:

…ostracism becomes a finely tuned instrument of torture, and one that can be implemented with little fear. There is an ambiguity to it: the targeted person wonders if it’s really happening, and since no one tells the target what may be wrong, the person can’t address the problem. The target feels humiliated and without recourse.

The obvious rebuttal here would be a reminder that gays and lesbians have historically experienced the very same treatment and worse – sometimes at the hands of Christians. But I don’t know that any leading Christians on the sane side of Jerry Falwell spoke publicly of gay-shunning with Kohn’s cheery note of approval. In Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children And Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers, the Bishops’ Conference went quite a bit out of its way to talk parents out of kicking gay children to the curb.

The document dates back to 1997, when only 44% of American adults believed gay sex should be legal. Say what you like about the Church – we’ve never been front-runners.

At this point, I would introduce the question of whether two wrongs make a right. But my fear is that Kohn and the people she speaks for would frame the issue in a very different way. On his blog Godless in Dixie, Neil Carter sheds some light on the thinking of gay-marriage supporters when he warns evangelicals, “You will indeed lose a bit more of your privilege.” The concept of privilege – that dominant groups in society hold various advantages that they take for granted – has gained a great deal of currency in social-science research, and has become central to the thinking of today’s Left. To the likes of Kohn and Carter, a sense of social belonging isn’t a right. It’s something people either luck into or – it now seems – win through cultural conquest.

Again, this is a disturbingly cynical view. It’s one thing to theorize about and attempt to document the invisible benefits of belonging to the right group. It’s quite another to reify those benefits and claim them the minute your own group gains ground. Many people concerned with privilege will concede that its holders express it chiefly through those small slights researchers call microaggressions. These are often unintentional, as the biases they express are often unconsciously held. The winners in the gay-marriage fight are now saying, “HAH! We WON! We’re going to slight people in a deliberate, calculated way BECAUSE WE CAN!”

To put it in a different context, it’s often said that victors write history. I can’t think of a time when someone came along and said, “I’M the victor, so I get to write the history – that’s right, ME!” Until now that is. Forget those naive caricatures of liberals preaching tolerance and singing “Kumbaya.” They’ve gained a very keen appreciation for power, and they’re playing a game where the winner gets to take all.

As they prepare to put us in time out, gay marriage supporters still flush with victory would do well to bear in mind two facts. First, there are an awful lot of us. According to Pew, we still make up 39% of the population. Second, whether or not we’re on the right side of history, we do have the weight of history on our side. Convincing such a large minority, whose minority status is based on beliefs with such deep roots, to play along and accept the role of pariah without protest is not going to be that easy.

Finally, when it’s not driving people to despair, ostracism has a way of stiffening spines. It certainly had that effect on gays and lesbians, hats off to them, and they are not the only vertebrates left on the planet. We are, after all, called to sacrifice for our faith. Unfortunately, not everyone can be so lucky as to go out with a bang like Miguel Pro. Some of us may find nothing worse to offer up than not getting to hang out with Sally Kohn.

"Saint Joseph of Cupertino.'Nuff said."

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